Showing 161 - 170 of 360 annotations tagged with the keyword "Catastrophe"

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

South African lawyer and leading member of the ANC (African National Congress) during the tumultuous 70s and 80s, lost an arm, sight in one eye, and suffered hearing loss and diminished use of his legs when the bomb planted in his car exploded on April 7, 1988. This book chronicles the accident, his long recovery in a hospital and rehabilitation unit, and the process of re-entering life and politics after such a harrowing experience.

Sachs connects his personal recovery with the emergence of an apartheid-free South Africa and tells his individual story within the context of political struggle. The 2000 edition includes a forward by Desmond Tutu, an introduction by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and a new epilogue by Sachs.

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A Gesture Life

Lee, Chang-rae

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Franklin Hata, comfortably retired from his medical supply business, reflects on his life--a life that spans several continents, three cultures (ethnic Korean brought up in Japan and emigrating in adulthood to the U.S.), service as a medic in World War II (in the Imperial Army of Japan), adoptive fatherhood, and a fizzled out romance with a well-to-do suburban Caucasian widow. At first out of place in the wealthy New York suburb where he settled, Hata has worked hard to achieve acceptance there, taking pains to fit in, creating no disturbances, never complaining, even when provoked by thoughtless schoolchildren or narrow minded adults.

The major disappointment of his adult life has been his tempestuous relationship with his adopted mixed-race daughter, Sunny, who left his home to live on her own when only a teenager. Even failed parenthood, however, has been absorbed by Hata. For although Hata claims that he had always wished to "pass through with something more than a life of gestures," (299) in fact he has labored to maintain equilibrium with a carefully designed "gesture life" of daily routine and superficial social niceties.

In the idleness of retirement and the solitude of his large, empty Tudor home, disturbing memories impinge on these routines and force a re-evaluation of his life and his relationship with the estranged Sunny. As a young medic during World War II, Hata had undergone an emotional and moral crisis when he fell in love with one of the Korean "comfort women" brought into his care in the Japanese army camp (in Burma) to which he was assigned. In the midst of rape and murder, Hata had to make choices, and these choices he can no longer justify to himself.

Further, he comes to understand that his relationship with his daughter has been colored by those long ago events. "In a way, it was a kind of ignoring that I did, an avoidance of her as Sunny -- difficult, rash, angry Sunny -- which I masked with a typical performance of consensus building and subtle pressure, which always is the difficult work of attempting to harmonize one's life and the lives of those whom one cherishes." (284)

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Summary:

Joel Garcia (Eric Stoltz) is a young writer who loses the use of his legs after a climbing accident and faces medical, existential, romantic, sexual, institutional, and social challenges on the way to resuming what is left of his former life. Joel has to acknowledge his condition, decide (as a liberal and Hispanic) how to stand up against the bigoted bragging of his fellow patient the crude biker Bloss (William Forsythe), and, somehow, how to make the right moves with his girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt), who is married and whose ambivalence about her relationship with Joel is compounded by his disability.

Joel and Bloss come together, toward the end, in an attempt to ease the suffering of a third patient, Raymond Hill (Wesley Snipes), a self-styled ladies' man who conceals the fact that his wife has just left him. The film was written and co-directed by Neal Jimenez, who, according to Roger Ebert, has experienced much of what his main character goes through.

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The Drowned and the Saved

Levi, Primo

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Primo Levi was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. He survived the experience, probably in part because he was a trained chemist and as such, useful to the Nazis. Soon after the war ended, he wrote several books about his experience. The Drowned and the Saved, however, was written 40 years later and is the work of memory and reflection not only on the original events, but also on how the world has dealt with the Holocaust in the intervening years. Fundamental to his purpose is the fear that what happened once can happen (and in some respects, has happened) again.

Chapter 1, "The Memory of the Offense," dissects out the vagaries of memory, rejection of responsibility, denial of unacceptable trauma and out and out lying among those who were held to account by tribunals as well as among the victimized. Levi does not spare himself: "This very book is drenched in memory . . . it draws from a suspect source and must be protected against itself" (34). Even so, he insists, memory and the historical record are crucial to combating Nazi assumptions that their deeds would go unnoticed (they were destroying the evidence), or disbelieved.

In "The Gray Zone" (2) Levi challenges the tendency to over-simplify and gloss over unpleasant truths of the inmate hierarchy that inevitably developed in the camps, and that was exacerbated by the Nazi methodology of singling some out for special privileges. He outlines the coercive conditions that cause people to become so demoralized that they will harm each other just to survive. (And when they refused to collaborate, they were killed and immediately replaced.)

Chapter 3, " Shame," is, in my opinion, the most profound and moving section of the book. Levi begins it by discussing a phenomenon that occurred following liberation from the camps: many who had been incarcerated committed suicide or were profoundly depressed. This Levi attributes to shame and feelings of guilt. "Coming out of the darkness, one suffered because of the reacquired consciousness of having been diminished . . . Our moral yardstick had changed [while in the camps]" (75). Beyond that, there is the sense that "each one of us (but this time I say 'us' in a . . . universal sense) has usurped his neighbor's place and lived in his stead" (81-82).

In the concentration camp, says Levi, it was usually "the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the 'gray zone,' the spies" who survived ["the saved"] while the others did not ["the drowned"] (82). Only the drowned could know the totality of the concentration camp experience, but they cannot testify; hence, the saved must do their best to render it. Since Levi was one of those saved, he is "in permanent search of a justification . . . " and although he feels compelled to bear witness, he does not consider doing so sufficient justification for having survived. In this chapter Levi also discusses why inmates did not commit suicide during their incarceration:" . . . suicide is an act of man and not of the animal . . . because of the constant imminence of death there was no time to concentrate on the idea of death" (76).

"Communicating" (4) deals with the emotional and practical consequences of not being able to understand the German commands of the captors, or the conversation of the mostly German speaking prisoners (Levi was Italian but spoke some German). Levi also describes the additional suffering of those who were cut off from all communication with friends and family. "Useless Violence" (5) gives examples of how the Nazis tormented their prisoners with "stupid and symbolic violence."

In "The Intellectual in Auschwitz" (6) Levi speculates about how and in what circumstances being educated or cultured was a help or hindrance to coping with the situation. In this chapter he considers also whether religious belief was useful or comforting, concluding that believers "better resisted the seduction of power [resisted collaborating]" (145) and were less prone to despair. Levi, however, was never a believer, although he admits to having almost prayed for help once, but caught himself because "one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, not when you were losing" (146).

Chapter 7, "Stereotypes," addresses those who question why many concentration camp inmates or ghetto inhabitants did not attempt to escape or rebel, and why many German Jews remained in Germany during Hitler's ascendance. As in all the other chapters of his book, Levi discusses the complexity of these situations. "Letters from Germans" summarizes his correspondence with Germans who read his earlier books. The book ends ("Conclusion") with the exhortation that "It happened, therefore it can happen again . . . " (199).

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Tear

Hogan, Linda

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrative voice (probably female) links the ancestral past of a Chickasaw heritage with the present and future, "remembering" a long, forced march to Oklahoma under military surveillance. The women sewed tear dresses "because settler cotton was torn" but the miserable circumstances generated tears "so they were called / by this other name, / for our weeping." She sees herself as the reason for their survival, and at the same time, her ancestors ". . . walk inside me." The poem is cleverly constructed to give a strong sense of the continuity of generations and of the impact of a people’s history on individual lives.

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The Shrine at Altimara

L'Heureux, John

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Written in a style resembling religious litany, this is the tale of a disastrous teen-age marriage and its criminal consequences. The setting is California. Maria is a poor Mexican-American who meets and attracts Russell, a working class Anglo. Although ambivalent, Maria sees marriage to Russell as the path to American, white respectability. Her earlier hopes of achieving this status through her own efforts have been frustrated by the reality of poor academic performance. She is eager to get away from the household of her deeply religious mother. Russell is brooding, taciturn, and carries the physical and psychic wounds of an abused childhood--his father is a partially reformed alcoholic who deliberately burned Russell's hand.

The pair are ill-equipped for marriage or parenthood and Maria soon feels trapped. Their son, John, avoids provoking them by being a "good boy," hoping to prevent their frequent arguments. Russell's deprived childhood accounts, perhaps, for his obsessively jealous fixation on Maria. He is jealous even of the attention she gives their son.

The catastrophe that seems always close at hand finally occurs: Russell sets fire to his own child. The second part of the novel is told primarily from John's perspective as he undergoes a prolonged, painful rehabilitation and tries to find meaning in these events. It is also the story of the plastic surgeon who attempts to restore John's horribly scarred body and who has come to doubt the purpose of his profession (there is nothing he can do about destructive family relationships and psychic scars). Russell, who has been brutalized in jail, is released, seeking redemption. Fire, significant throughout the story, plays a final shocking (redemptive?) role.

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The Shadow Man

Gordon, Mary

Last Updated: Dec-05-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled "A Daughter's Search for Her Father," this memoir chronicles author Mary Gordon's quest to recapture the essence that was her father, a man she idolized and adored while he was alive--and long after his death when she was only seven years old. This death she saw as the single most defining event of her life. Identification with her father was essential to the conception of self, both as a creative writer, and as a worthwhile person. So she "entered the cave of memory" but found that memory was discordant with the facts.

Gordon's father was a writer, and a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. His persona was that of an intellectual, a graduate of Harvard, a frequenter of literary circles in Oxford and Paris. He claimed to be an only child, born in Ohio. As Gordon explores her memory and the historical record, forcing herself to confront her father's political opinions--opinions which are repugnant to her, and which she had earlier chosen to ignore--she uncovers a charade.

Her father, it turns out, was an immigrant from Vilna (in Eastern Europe) and had never finished high school. He had two sisters whom he never acknowledged to his family--one spent years in a mental institution where she ultimately died. Among his published writings are pornography and political diatribe (he was an anti-Semite and a facist); his writing was stylistically flawed.

This memoir is Mary Gordon's attempt to come to terms with what she learned about her father. It is the narrative deconstruction and reconstruction of the author's self; it is both biography and autobiography; a reflection on loss and recovery.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is the second edition of Hawkins's groundbreaking work on illness narratives--autobiographical and biographical accounts of illness that she calls "pathographies." This edition preserves the text of the earlier (1993) work but updates it with a new preface and a new concluding chapter. This new chapter (chapter 6) surveys works written since 1992 and expands the discussion of mythic thinking and narrative.

Hawkins posits that mythic thinking pervades illness writing. Mythic constructs, she argues, organize the way patients understand their illness, how they interact with the institution of medicine, and how they write their narratives. Myths are formulative in that they attempt to create order out of the disorientation of illness. In the texts selected, Hawkins identifies "archetypal" (transcultural, transhistorical) myths--myths of journey, battle, and death and rebirth (discussed in the first edition as well).

In this edition Hawkins introduces a new term: "ideological" myths. Ideological myths are "linked to a particular culture at a particular time" (xiii). In this category is the myth of healthy mindedness, a way of thinking that was labeled "mythos" in the earlier edition. Hawkins proposes two additional ideological myths, discussed in chapter 6: the Gaia myth (that links illness and environmental problems), and the "myth of narrativity" (xiii).

The book's chapters are organized around the myths enumerated above, with many examples. Most of the works discussed were written in the latter part of the 20th century, but there are several pages devoted to John Donne's Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (see annotation in this database). Hawkins determines how, in specific cases, the myths she has identified function--whether they are "enabling" or "disabling," and whether they are "medically syntonic or dystonic" (21-24). Myths that have an enabling function are adaptive, useful, help recovery or adjustment, ameliorate suffering. They are often medically syntonic--compatible with the belief system of Western medicine. One notable exception to this is Hawkins's paradigm of the ideological "myth of healthy mindedness," in which to be enabled often means to controvert traditional medical practices.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story concerns four sisters embarked on two concurrent journeys: one from adolescence to adulthood; the other from a comfortable, predictable life in the Dominican Republic to an uneasy resettlement in the United States. In addition to the normal difficulties associated with growing up, political turmoil abruptly uproots the lively young women from their native land with its Latin culture, tropical environment, and extended family life, forcing them to struggle with a strange language and even stranger culture.

Alvarez's collection of stories by each of the sisters cuts back and forth in time and place, shifting from childhood experiences on the vibrant Caribbean island to pubescent years and beyond in the Bronx and elsewhere. One episode vividly portrays an act of male exposure, the impact of that exposure on the confused adolescent, and the compounding of that confusion during an insensitive interrogation by police officers.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Peter Selwyn spent the first ten years out of medical school at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, caring for HIV-positive patients--mostly intravenous drug users and their families--in the early years of the AIDS crisis. As he worked with dying young men and women and their families, Selwyn returned to his own unexplored pain surrounding the loss of his father, who fell or (more likely) jumped from a 23-story building when Selwyn was a toddler. Mirroring their function in Selwyn’s life, the stories of the five patients who most affected him serve in this book as the threshold to the narrative of how Selwyn investigated, mourned, and commemorated his father’s death, finally revaluing it as central to the person and doctor he became.

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